An introduction to catchlights, attempting to answer a few basic questions like: "What are they?", "Why are they important in digital photography?" and "How can we make the best of them?"
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An old saying states that “the eyes are the windows to the soul." In photography, as in life, eyes are very important. A little glimmer in somebody’s eyes can make all the difference. It can reflect life, beauty, emotion, inner depth, sensitivity, kindness, and sometimes even mischief. In photography, these little sparks are referred to as catchlights or catch lights. Although they can lead us into the false impression that the light is coming from inside, catchlights are nothing more than the reflection of an external light source. This can be a window, an open door, an electric light or even a TV screen.
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Sometimes the eye can act like a mirror, reflecting not only bright points, but also whole or partial images. This property has inspired a lot of writers and film producers, who have used it in murder or mystery plots. More commonly, catchlights are spots of light with various brightness degrees coming in different shapes and forms.
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Catchlights are often used in portraits to add dimension and depth to the eye. The photographer can control their shape and size by controlling the shape and size of the light source and its distance from the subject. He can also control their number by using more than one light. If you don’t get them right when taking the shot, you can edit, add or remove catchlights using photo editing software such as Photoshop or GIMP.
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To make the best of catchlights, it is important to know how to position them. Although there are no set rules and a lot depends on the personal taste, experts believe the best way of positioning catchlights is using the clock rule. Imagine the eye as a clock and think of an hour hand pointing at 10 o’clock or at 2 o’clock and you’ll get the two perfect positions for a catchlight. There is no known explanation for this preference for the upper left and upper right corners of the eye, but professionals use them and they seem to work.
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Click an image to enlarge it
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Adding / Removing Catchlights
Eyes with no catchlights appear dull and lifeless and they make the portrait seem 'not quite right'. Fortunately, there are several methods for adding / removing catchlights using photographic software, so you don't have to worry even if you missed them when you took the photo or if you are not very satisfied with your results. Here are a few useful links to online tutorials that offer step by step instructions.